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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Commercial tech evolves beyond the hype in the government market

I started writing about the government IT market in 1996, and one of the earliest acronyms I learned was COTS – commercial off the shelf technology.

At the time, all the talk was about how the government wanted COTS products. The arguments in favor of COTS were that it would be cheaper and faster. The government wouldn't be stuck with paying to maintain and update something because the support from the commercial world would keep the investments following.

The problem was that in 1996, and even more recently, the use of COTS just didn’t live up to the rhetoric. But the recent years of tight budgets have forced contractors and government customers alike to turn to commercial products as they looked for ways to operate in a more cost effective manner.

The government also has noticed that the commercial world has the lead in developing and deploying all kinds of new technologies. Because of budget and mission pressures, the government is reaching for commercial products and solutions in ways they didn’t before.

In many ways, the changes have been subtle, such as new partnerships between commercial technology vendors and government vendors.

We’ve also seen the government looking more intensely at the commercial world for innovation, such as Terry Halverson’s visit to Silicon Valley this spring to meet with a variety of tech companies. The rise of Amazon Web Services is another indicator that commercial vendors can find customers in the government market.

The Professional Services Council’s recent announcement of an agreement to collaborate with the California Technology Council reflects the growing demand for commercial products and solutions in the government market.

Stan Soloway, president and CEO of PSC, described the shared interest of the two groups as part of the “continued evolution of the government marketplace.”

PSC and CTC will work on an agenda for entrepreneurship and innovation in how the government buys technology and services.

“As increasingly disruptive technologies become more readily available for procurement, it is essential that the government have policies and processes in place that incentivize innovation and enable the broadest possible array of business relationships and models," Soloway said in PSC’s announcement.

In other words, the government has to get better at buying commercial products.

On the other side of the coin, commercial technology vendors need to learn more about how the government marketplace operates because no amount of procurement reform will ever make the government market like the commercial market.

"Companies and their investors alike view the system as a challenge,” said CTC CEO Matt Gardner.

His member companies want to be part of the government market, but “they often need allies and partners to make the most of their potential. This is one of many aspects of our relationship with PSC that makes this collaboration ideal for our members."

So, this relationship between PSC and CTC will be about education and training – they are holding a seminar in Silicon Valley in November on government procurement – but also about connecting CTC members with PSC members.

It might rise to the level of being a matchmaker, but PSC and CTC are smart to form this partnership.

PSC will help its members connect with commercial tech innovators, and it’ll introduce the government market to new companies. Who knows, maybe some of those companies will become future PSC members.

Either way, the partnership between PSC and CTC is another sign that the government market has moved beyond lip service when it comes to commercial technology. In 1996, they may have talked about it, but now the government is finally doing it.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Sep 17, 2015 at 11:33 AM


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